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Prostate Cancer: A Major Health Concern for African American Men

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer for men in the United States. Prostate cancer hits African American men especially hard.

In a 2000 study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, African American men were found to be at nearly twice the risk of prostate cancer compared with white men, even after adjustment for a number of known and suspected prostate cancer risk factors.1, African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the US. 2 In addition, a 2000 Roper Starch survey showed that African American men are significantly more likely than white men to experience side effects from prostate cancer treatment, including incontinence. They are also more likely than white men to be dissatisfied with their doctor’s support.

Researchers are trying to determine why the African American community suffers more prostate cancer. Some possibilities include:

  • Environmental and nutritional factors may play an important role. Blacks in Africa do not have the same high rate of prostate cancer and mortality as blacks in the United States. A genetic difference and lower levels of vitamin D may contribute to the higher rates of prostate cancer in African American men. 1
  • Less access to health care, including lack of insurance, may mean that African American men don?t always get the preventive care they need.
  • Distrust or negative attitudes towards screening tests and health care may mean that prostate cancer is diagnosed when it is more advanced in African American men.

What you can do

If you are an African American man, age 45 or above, the American Cancer Society recommends that you should have a prostate cancer screening test yearly. Prostate cancer screening can include a Prostate Specific Antigen blood test or “PSA” and a Digital Rectal Exam or “DRE.” For the DRE, your doctor will feel for any unusual growths on, or around, the prostate.

If you have prostate cancer in your family, you are at even greater risk of developing prostate cancer yourself. Talk to your family to find out if any of your relatives have had prostate cancer. Then talk to your doctor about your family history. If prostate cancer is caught early, your chances for living a normal life are good.

Your health depends on you, so:

  • Get regular check-ups, including prostate cancer screening. These simple tests can save your life.
  • Eat a healthful diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.
  • Stay current with the latest studies. For example, the American Cancer Society has reported on the possible role of lycopene in prostate cancer growth.

Learning More

Few educational materials about prostate cancer have been targeted to African American men. An exception is a free video called “Not By Myself,” produced by Dr. Terry Mason. Dr. Mason is a Chicago urologist and chairman of the Urology Section of the National Medical Association, an association that promotes the collective interests of physicians and patients of African descent. The video was produced through an unrestricted educational grant by Amgen and PRAECIS Pharmaceuticals. It is available free by calling 1-877-PRAECIS.

1Platz, E. et al, J Natl Cancer Inst (2000) 92:2009-17.

2CDC, US Cancer Statistics (2000), Incidence.

A racially diverse, volunteer panel of health and other professionals from throughout Ohio reviewed this document. Panel members offer their perspectives on NetWellness content developed for African Americans prior to posting.

For more information:

Go to the African American Health health topic.